Oka Rusmini: The Taboo Breaker


Ida Ayu Oka Rusmini was born in Jakarta on July 11 1967. Being a Balinese descendant, she once went to college and worked as a journalist in Bali. She wrote about Balinese culture with a frontal and critical tone in her poetry, short stories, and novels. Particularly the ones that are referring to women who are caught and stumbled in tradition, custom, and old values.

Oka starts to draw attention in the early 2000s although her works were already published in mid-1990s. Tarian Bumi  - Earth Dance (Gramedia, 2000) “tells the story of a woman who tries to cope with culture, religion, and social life of the Hindu society in Bali,” she explains in an interview that took place in between her busy schedule during the Makassar Literacy Festival on 3-6 June 2015. That kind of circumstance made Oka being called as “the taboo breaker from Bali” (Wayan Sunarta, journalbali.com).

The novel also attracts attention from international publishers, who have translated it to English, Swedish, and Italian language (it became a must read in Napoli University), also into the Korean language very soon. Her critic, or it can also be referred to as her resistance, to traditional Balinese values which she thinks is unfavorable to women is consistently worked on in various forms. Her short stories collection such as Sagra and Akar Pule – Pule Roots, for example, has been able to delve into the theme through different stories.  Her poetries, Warna Kita – Our Colors (2007) and Pandora(2008) are often using strong vocabulary to express the resistance.

In Saiban (2014) poetry collection, Oka seems to be more positive towards Balinese culture. She mentioned that the collection that won the Kusala Sastra Khatulistiwa to be her endless gratitude upon many things. Her obsession seems to shift towards writing fiction under the existing cultural framework. She once mentioned (in perca.blogspot.co.id, 2007) that it has to be done because in the future the old cultures will become obsolete and eventually vanish. In this interview, Oka addresses a more positive reason: “so many Indonesian cultures that haven’t been explored.”

Her sympathy lies in her concern towards a possibility where Indonesian culture will no longer be recognized. In the same way, she sympathize the fact that the majority of school does not include Indonesian literature works in their syllabus. As seen in this interview, Oka continues to strive.